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Playing it right

Paoli Dam’s phone has been ringing off the hook ever since the day Kalbela was released. Her performance as Madhabilata has brought her squarely into the limelight and directors and audience and critics alike have started taking notice of this dusky alumnus of Loreto, Bowbazar. “Everybody needs a platform — Kalbela gave me the platform. I had to prove myself,” says Paoli.

We’ll be seeing a lot of Paoli in the coming months as four of her movies — including Rituparno Ghosh’s Shob Choritra Kalponik — are about to be released. Apart from Ghosh’s movie, there’s Mallickbari where she plays a girl who suffers from an inferiority complex because of her looks. Also, there’s Box No. 1313 in which she’s cast opposite Parambrata Chatterjee and the Swapan Saha-directed Jamairaja where she romances Prosenjit.

Her diary’s also jampacked for the next few months. She’s shooting for Anup Sengupta’s Bangla Bachao, again with Prosenjit, Hurumtal (opposite Jishhu Sengupta), Alive, a crime thriller in which she plays a CID officer with Victor Banerjee and Sabyasachi Chakraborty and the late Tapan Sinha’s Teen Murti, now being directed by Raja Sen.

“I’m doing all kinds of films and all kinds of characters. I don’t want to get typecast,” insists Paoli. “My characters should convey something,” she adds.

A still from Kalbela, which is based on Samaresh Majumdar’s award-winning novel

Even though she’s being billed as the next big thing in Tollywood, Paoli comes across as an intelligent girl-next-door. She’s smartly dressed in summer staple whites and she chats about everything from the weather to the fact that she doesn’t read much. Movies and music are her interests, she says. “I’m not much of a book person,” she confides, apologetically.

Paoli insists that she had never really wanted to be an actress. Academics were her first choice and even in her early days in the television industry, this Science College student could often be spotted revising chemical formulae on the sets. “I wanted to do research. I’m here just because of my mother who wanted me to become an actress. But now acting has become a passion,” says Paoli.

Though the spotlight has turned on her after Kalbela, this isn’t her first big screen role. But, her first movie, Teen Yaari Katha, hasn’t been released yet. The petite 20-something has also done bit roles in hit movies like I Love You, Agni Pariksha and Tulkalam.

Paoli and Jisshu Sengupta during the making of Anup Sengupta’s Hurumtal

Director Buddhadeb Dasgupta, who directed Paoli in some of his tele-serials, is all praise for her. “She acts from her intellect and intuition. These things don’t happen together all the time. She’s surprising and unique,” he says.

Kalbela happened to Paoli out of the blue when she got a call from Gautam Ghose’s production manager asking her to meet the director. “I thought he was joking and even asked him whether he meant director Gautam Ghose,” she laughs.

In the event, she didn’t have to do a screen test. “Gautamda took some of my photographs. There was also a make-up test,” she says. Then there was a script reading session and Paoli was given the thumbs-up.

Paoli says that she didn’t make special preparations for her performance. “I think Madhabilata is someone who’s there inside every girl. That helped me a lot. The rest of the credit goes to Gautamda. Also the atmosphere on the set inspired me,” she asserts.

Paoli started out in television back in 2003. Her first serial was Jibon Niye Khela for ETV Bangla. She subsequently starred in popular mega-serials like Tarpor Chand Uthlo, Sonar Harin, Tithir Atithi and Jaya. “I’ve learnt a lot from television. It has groomed me,” she acknowledges.

Tithir Atithi, in which she played a negative character, was a major turning point in her career. “People started noticing me after that and my work started getting appreciated,” she says. She continued to do mega-serials and movies simultaneously till 2007 after which she decided to take the plunge.

Growing up in a joint family in Bowbazar in central Calcutta, Paoli was a regular at Shishu Rangan and started doing theatre at a very early age. Later, she also took dance lessons from Thankamani Kutti. “I loved doing theatre and didn’t even mind missing out on parties to do it,” she says.

Was it difficult getting a toehold in the industry? Paoli insists she didn’t have to struggle very much. “I was accepted wherever I went. And I was lucky to get good and supportive directors and co-actors,” she says.

She’s shifted from Bowbazar to Tollygunge now but misses Bowbazar. “We lived in a joint family and had a lot of fun,” she says nostalgically. She also misses being able to eat whatever she feels like. “I’d never say no to even two or three pieces of fish. But now I have to watch what I am eating and it’s a torture,” she rues.

What’s a normal day like for her? When she’s not shooting, Paoli prefers to stay at home and rest, watch films and listen to music. World movies are a favourite. She’s also quite a fitness freak nowadays, thanks to another sultry Bengali beauty named Bipasha Basu. “I used to watch her during the shooting of Shob Charitra Kalponik and how she never missed out on her daily exercise routine,” says Paoli, who now trains at the Karma gym with a personal trainer.

Paoli is also keen to learn more about her trade. She says she needs to shape up more, study, watch good films and talk to directors to pick up the finer nuances of her profession. “But the best tool for learning is watching films,” she says.

She has a keen interest in how films are made and she would like to go behind the camera and become a director someday. For now though, Paoli Dam is happy putting on the greasepaint and dancing around trees.

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